Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Do Some People Have It Easy? Revisited

I wrote about this two years ago, but the question is still relevant. That's why I'm discussing the issue once again.

Unfortunately, many of us or our loved ones have a big nisayon to contend with. Whether it involves health, parnassa, shalom bayis, shidduchim, chinuch - many of us struggle with something big. What can make it more difficult is seeing a neighbor or friend who seems to have the easy life - a nice home, fancy car, no obvious health issues, no older singles, no kids off the derech - what could be the guy's biggest challenge, choosing between a Lexus and an Infiniti? It's easy to be jealous of someone who seems to have everything going his way.

Many rabbonim, including Rabbi Paysach Krohn, say that such an attitude is wrong. "Nobody has it easy!" says Rabbi Krohn. Many challenges are only known behind closed doors. The neighbor with the fancy house may have tremendous shalom bayis issues that nobody except for a few close friends and family will ever know about. These days, many health issues are kept secret. Based on what Rabbi Krohn says, everyone's got a challenge, we just don't necessarily know about it.

But based on the gemara and other sources, I don't know if that's true. The gemara in Avoda Zara (3a) says that G-d does not give His creatures a nisayon they can't handle. Based on that, we can speculate that some people can't handle anything. In that case, the biggest nisayon G-d will give them just might be whether to shop at Bloomingdale's or Saks. If that's all they tolerate, that's all they'll get.

Rabbi Ezriel Tauber Shlit"a, in his work "Self Esteem" (highly recommended, by the way - this is not Dr. Phil/Stephen Covey fluff, despite the title) expounds on this point:

The greater a person is, the more is expected of him.


"You must have Hashem's favor," the rabbi added. "Otherwise, He would let you have things easy. You must be able to overcome your despair. Hashem only challenges a person whom He knows can persevere and overcome. You must believe in yourself as much as He believes in you."

- When I was in yeshiva, some rabbeim would often discuss the "tehillim-zuggers" who were in Europe. These were men who didn't know how to learn chumash, let alone gemara. But they were still considered good Jews, my rabbeim said. Why? Their brainpower was limited, so their tafkid was to say tehillim. And because of that, they were great. Of course, if R' Akiva Eiger or the Chasam Sofer would've settled with being "tehillim-zuggers," that would have been tragic. All that potential, wasted.

In the same vein, perhaps some people have it easy when it comes to nisyonos. When it comes to challenges, they are the "tehillim-zuggers" of our time. They can't handle too much, so their nisyonos may seem easy to the rest of us. As Rabbi Tauber explains, nisyonos represent G-d's confidence in man's ability to rise to the occasion. And some people simply don't have what it takes.

It's also important to keep in mind the famous Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:12), that says that much of the evil in the world comes from people's own actions. The classic example would be a chain smoker who later gets lung cancer - many of us wouldn't feel too sympathetic - in a sense, this person dug their own grave. I think we can extend to this to similar situations involving social and emotional challenges as well.

- But as Rabbi Tauber writes, the key for anyone facing a challenge is to believe in themselves and rise to the occasion. Rabbi Soloveitchik zt"l expounds on this in "Fate and Destiny," another recommended read.

May G-d give all those facing a challenge the ability to realize this and overcome whatever difficulties they may be facing.